Selling the dream...

Never lose sight of the benefit

Sounds simple, right? But it’s often less obvious than you think. Discover the true benefit of what you’re selling and you’ll unlock the mystical key to customer connection.

I always aim to decipher the key benefit of whatever I’m selling and say it as early as possible with a call to action, whatever the market or brand. Whenever I get stuck, it’s generally because I’m not focused on this.

Surprisingly, the benefits of a new-generation youth-boosting face cream are not its pentapeptides, or its naturally active ingredients; it won’t be its ethical packaging or its lightweight texture and its fast absorbency either. Its fundamental benefit is the end result that links with the main desire: that it may make you look more beautiful or younger. i.e.


This magical formula is bursting with pentapeptides and naturally active ingredients to help lacklustre skin look its best.

But more like:

Reveal your most youthful-looking complexion yet, as you transform skin with the potent powers of pentapeptides.

It works for everything, and it can often make the difference between an ‘ok’ angle and a clever angle.

For example, selling wedding presents. The obvious route is:

Make their day with our exclusive wedding gifts.

But, for the wedding guest, the real benefit is more selfish than this, i.e. you want them to love you more for giving them the best gift!

Be the first to get a ‘thank you’ letter. Shop our exclusive wedding gifts.

The call to action

This is when you’re telling the audience to do something, I tend to always kick off my sentence or headline with a CTA, if the aim is to sell, as it’s much more evocative. So it’s not:

Luxury chocolate ice cream you’ll fall in love with.


Fall in love with chocolate ice cream luxury.

Good CTA verbs to start with:

discover, experience, try, be…

The angle

Going on from the above, thinking about the angle of what you’re saying will boost engagement in a flash. It’s about putting yourself in your audience’s shoes. I.e. a men’s hair-loss product, for a functional ad the obvious benefit will be:

Reduces hair loss.

But the real benefit… say you’re targeting a 30 year old male with premature hair loss… is more emotional, i.e:

Turn her head with your new head of hair.

Not a perfect line by any means, but you can see where I’m going!

Once you tap into that, your ad can be very compelling as it’s linking how he truly feels to a solution… again tying in with the call to action of ‘turn her head’ you’re making it an even more emotional pull. There is always an emotional pull…

It’s nice to add situational context, then tie that in with your brand’s tone of voice. If you’re selling a dress for festival season, then ask yourself: what happens at a festival? The answer might be: Oh, we get muddy… and have an amazingly liberating time… and this brand is quite fun… so… something like:

Discover the dress worth getting muddy in a field for.

Go big or go eat a banana

Don’t fear delivering something BRAVE. Let yourself go, push those creative boundaries within the parameters of the brief and harness the courage to blow your client’s mind. A client would always rather you “tone it down a bit” than ask to inject more life into a play-it-safe line. The number of times I’ve presented a headline to a client that felt “too big” and worried they’ll think I’ve finally gone mad, for it to be the one thing they LOVE more than anything else I’ve written (not always, but I maintain that bold creative integrity is the best place to start for the best results). So take a risk, start with that Big Bang of words – however bananas they seem – have fun and work back from that.

Keep it snappy

Every headline, every sentence - go back over them and ditch the superlatives (and don’t even breathe an adverb!), keeping it as much to the point as possible. People need to get the message fast (I think a website user gives about 3 seconds to a homepage, and a pedestrian 6 seconds to a billboard if they’re waiting at the bus stop - not long to capture them!).

Make it relevant, consider starting with a question

This pulls the customer in fast and helps to establish a connection. Keep it relevant and interesting, start a conversation.

Don’t be afraid to utilise press quotes or testimonials

Make sure you ask the client if there have been any good press quotes or customer testimonials, i.e.

“The best beauty cream on the planet” - Vogue

An impartial endorsement such as next to an image of the product will sell your product tenfold over any creative line, sorry but true!

We’re not selling the product, we’re selling the dream

Goes on from a lot of what I’ve already said, but it’s worth remembering this. Who does your audience really want to be (v.s. who do they feel they are?)? What do they want to look like? How do they want to be perceived? Give them that!

Challenge your feedback

The client isn’t always right (they often are of course!). Challenge, challenge

  • and always make sure you ask the ‘why’s’ - this has been essential for me. I.e. a client might ask “can I have two options without the words ‘beach’ or ‘beautiful’?" But is this just because the client feeding back doesn’t ‘like’ those two words, or has there been strategic thinking about whether the audience might not like those words; sometimes it’s even worth saying “I hope this is in-line with your audience’s expectations” to keep everyone involved focused on who the communication is targeting.

Make sure the brief is clear

Often, if you get heaps of amends and conflicting feedback, it’ll be down to a rushed or not-thought-through brief. It’s really important that the client has a clear idea of what they want. Make sure you know the size of the piece - is it an A6 postcard or an A5 flyer? How many words? The objective of the piece - i.e. boost sales vs raise awareness? And the proposition - what do they want the audience to do? I.e. book online / go to the store counter to collect their free gift?

It’s really important to establish this as otherwise you can end up with a piece losing its way. I.e. a client understandably once said “I quite fancy a more lengthy and editorial ‘softly softly’ approach”, but the proposition of the brief was ‘seriously up sales’ - this was my justification when I went back and said “but we need them to buy, we’re being measured on sales!" and pointed this out on the brief, the result being we went with the punchy and sales-driven copy that I’d first submitted.

Ask for examples on subjective tone of voice requests

A brief might appear clear, i.e. it’s asking for a ‘funky’ ‘quirky’ ‘original’ tone of voice - but these are really subjective words. If this is the case, I always ask what brands they consider as having the ‘funky’ tone of voice they’re aspiring to. This can save a lot of time, as quite often the examples will come back and be completely different to what I’d envisaged!

Understand your audience

Always ask for any audience insight. The client often knows so much about their audience but the brief will just state: ‘ABC1 45 year old woman’! If that’s all you have though, do a pen portrait of this woman - is she a bored housewife? Is she a career-driven mum who has no time? Then bounce that about with your client… the idea will start to flow.

Proof reading

If you’re tired - get someone to proof read (my wordsmith-wizardry Mum has been known to be my secret proofer!).

Email subject lines for brand emails

Spend time on these, as your copy will be measured on how many of the emails get opened! It’s easy to rush this bit, but this is your chance to cut through the other emails in the customer’s inbox and will determine the success of your hard work! Consider who you’re competing against: the best friend, the other brands, the boss? Make sure you stand out, tease and connect.

See what you’re selling

If it’s a product, see it / try it / smell it if you can; if it’s a place - go, or read-up on it from other sources.Experience as much of that product or service as you can.

Don’t stare at a blank screen

If inspiration isn’t coming, Google competitor ads, go for a walk, Google images linked to ‘the benefit’, meditate - do whatever you need to do to switch on your creativity!

Lose your inner critic

If you haven’t read The Artist’s Way, then do, it’s an amazing book! In particular, the ‘morning pages’ (write three pages in a notebook every morning without any inner critic, as a stream of consciousness that you never read back to yourself have really benefited my work - they ‘free’ your writing for the day in some magical way!

Fresh eyes

Never send a piece of work you’ve just finished straight to the client. I always have at least a couple of hours away from it, as invariably I’ll change something. I then try and look at it from the perspective that it is someone else’s work and ask myself ‘how can I make it better?’

Push the boundaries

If it’s a fun brand - can you make up words? Think: clever links, plays on words… they all get attention.

Meet / talk with the designers

Not always possible but it’s good to know if your copy will lead their design, or if their design limits your copy i.e. word counts (if so, can you see the design?). In an ideal world you’ll work together and brainstorm ideas, before creating separately.

Be careful of claims

This is particularly key for Beauty but is applicable to all products and services i.e.

Helps to reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

As opposed to:

Reduces wrinkles.

The latter can be deemed dangerously over-selling when it comes to a review from the Advertising Standards Agency. You may often need small print which will need a legal eye before it’s signed off.

Award-winning senior copywriter

A creative, strategic and award-winning copywriter based in London.

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